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Proposed Cooper CAFO causes rift in residents

Proposed Cooper CAFO causes rift in residents

February 18th, 2018 by Allen Fennewald in Local News

A small group of Cooper County landowners received a letter in early January, informing them a Minnesota-based company intends to build and operate a sow complex near their property and the homes of their neighbors.

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The landowners near Renshaw Drive, a gravel road near the Moniteau County line, were being informed because their property was within 1,500 feet of the facility proposed by the Pipestone System. The letter stated the Missouri Department of Natural Resources would accept questions and comments before granting or denying a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) permit for the proposed Tipton East swine farrowing facility.

Since the letters arrived, the information has caused a rift between rural residents who either support or oppose the CAFO project.

The divide even splits a local family.

On one side, Dean Gibson wants the right to sell 25 acres to Pipestone System. He and nearby row crop farmers could use the resulting free manure to fertilize their rolling fields and sell corn and soybeans to feed the Tipton East hogs.

On the other side, people like Gibson's sister, Susan Williams, fear the CAFO and its manure will negatively impact the area environment, which would hinder the ability for local farmers to safely and comfortably raise their families and livestock.

Tipton East proposal

Tipton East is a proposed class 1C CAFO operation that would be housed on 25 acres in Cooper County, currently owned by Dean Gibson, within a mile north of the Moniteau County line near Clarksburg. It would be Pipestone's seventh facility in Missouri.

Under 1C classification, DNR limits livestock to 2,500-7,499 for swine weighing more than 55 pounds and 10,000-29,000 for swine weighing less than 55 pounds. C1 CAFOs must have a buffer of 1,000 feet from neighbors and notify neighbors residing within 1,500 feet when an application is submitted.

According to the application, the operation on Renshaw Drive will consist of a gestation building housing 4,704 sows, a farrowing building housing 1,080 sows, and a gilt-development unit for 1,620 females weighing more than 55 pounds, and 324 nursery pigs.

Williams said four Iowa companies would receive piglets from Tipton East for their finishing operations in Iowa, and a fifth company would own the property, while Pipestone System manages the farrowing operation and facilities.

The four companies invested in the Tipton East hogs will receive portions annually of an expected 160,000 weaned piglets, estimated at a value of $6.4 million.

Steve Menke, Pipestone System representative and partial owner of Pipestone Veterinary Services, said the operation would employ about 17 full-time workers. Laborers would be paid a starting wage of $14 per hour, while managers could earn about $100,000 a year. The company reported the annual payroll, including benefits, would be $1.25 million.

DNR is accepting public comments until March 17 on the application submitted Jan. 31. As of Wednesday, the department had only received one public comment. The state agency has 90 days from its receipt of the application to issue or deny a permit, which set the deadline at March 2. An area resident requested a 15-day public comment extension, which was granted.

Public comments can be sent to Environmental concerns also can be addressed in an online form at

Hog manure would be stored in 10-foot-deep pits below the containment facilities until it is injected into cropland near the facility using lifetime easements. As an export-only operation — meaning all manure will be spread on fields owned by area farmers and not their own property — Pipestone would not have any legal liability if area waters are polluted by runoff from the fields.

Todd Williams, a Pipestone representative and partial owner of Pipestone Veterinarian Services, said Pipestone would accept the moral obligation to help clean any spills or other contaminates.

Manure spreading

Manure will be pumped from the holding pits using a hose that could extend about 3 miles. It will be injected approximately 6 inches into field soil, which will decrease runoff amounts as compared to spreading manure on the surface of the soil. The manure would be applied to fields at a rate based on yearly manure samples from the pits and the nutrient uptake of the crops.

Those opposing Tipton East worry the manure spreaders will spill manure directly onto the surface of the soil as the tractors make turns at the end of field rows. Newer spreaders are capable of injecting manure as they turn, but Pipestone's Williams said they do not have affiliations with any area spreaders with that technology. They have not finalized an agreement with any spreader yet. If manure is applied to the surface at the edge of fields, he said, the spreader would make an extra trip around the boundaries of the field to knife that manure into the soil.

Farming landowners can spread manure as near as 50 feet from the property line, 300 feet from a well, under DNR regulations. Manure can be applied within 35 feet from streams if there is vegetation or a hill in between and 100 feet away if the hill slopes toward the water. But DNR regulations do not apply to Tipton East, since it has applied to export the manure, allowing a professional spreading company to apply it to fields Pipestone System does not own.

Melanie Hutton, Cooper County Public Health Center administrator, said Pipestone told her the field owners can request the company to instruct the spreading company to follow DNR regulations when applying manure.

University of Missouri Extension assistant professor Teng Teeh Lim said "the water pollution impact could be well managed" if the Tipton East operation has enough land to apply the manure and the spreaders follow good application practices.

Hog carcasses will be composted and used for fertilizer. They would be covered with wood chips and other materials in an above-ground, open-air structure with a capacity of 186 tons per year.

Some Tipton East opponents worry wild animals could dig up rotting carcasses and risk spreading diseases to other farmers' hogs. Williams said that is a possibility, but it is the responsibility of area farmers to maintain their own biosecurity measures to keep contamination out of their operations.

Odor output

Missouri has 19 counties with health ordinances regulating emissions around farms as well as the required distance between farms and residences. The Missouri Farm Bureau is against establishing new county health ordinances because it believes state regulations are sufficient.

Lim conducted what he referred to as a brief evaluation of Tipton East's potential odor footprint using Purdue University's Livestock Odor Setback Model and the University of Minnesota Extension's Odor from Feedlots Setback Estimation Tool.

Lim said for deep-pit CAFOs like the proposed Tipton East, the operation should have enough distance for the odors to be dispersed and diluted and enough crop fields nearby to land apply the manure at an agronomic rate.

"The preliminary modeling suggests that there is reasonable fields for the odor dispersion," he said. "The site is reasonable, not perfect."

Wind direction can vary heavily in Missouri, but Lim said average wind rose data indicates the region generally receives winds from the south, which would blow the odor toward neighbors to the north. he warned many factors impact odor dispersion and dilution like weather and animal biology, so an exact measurement is difficult to obtain.

Pipestone System

Pipestone System, the company that would manage the proposed Tipton East CAFO, describes itself as a quasi-cooperative made up of 450 family farmers, allowing their affiliates to efficiently compete in the global marketplace using top-of-the-line technology and farrowing methods.

Its opponents view it as a factory farming conglomerate bent on earning profits over local interests.

Williams said Pipestone System is the third-largest producer in the United States, which includes more than 70 sow farms owned by 450 individual independent farmers. The majority of those operations are in Iowa and Minnesota, where there is a high volume of corn and other swine operations. Six Pipestone System farms are in Missouri, such as the Pipestone CAFO outside Slater.

When farming operations want to join Pipestone System, they register LLCs for their livestock and property businesses. Fifty-two of those companies are registered at Pipestone's 1300 S. Highway 75 address in Pipestone, Minnesota.

Pipestone System wants to spread its operations from Minnesota and Iowa where CAFO companies have a large presence. By moving south into Missouri, the company can keep its farrowing operations a safe distance from swine diseases found in the heavily hog congested areas.

Missouri Pork Association Executive Director Don Nikodim said Pipestone, with around 70 facilities in various states, is highly respected in the pork industry.

"They have a huge vested interest in making sure they are successful, and their track record in Missouri and other states is outstanding," Nikodim said.

Missouri ranks seventh in pork production, Nikodim said, but ranked as high as third in the 1970s. Domestic and international demand for pork is growing. Last year, more than 25 percent of the pork produced in the United States was exported. Nikodim said Missouri row crop farmers could take advantage of the rising need for corn and soybeans to feed hogs.

The resistance

Dozens of rural residents who live near the proposed Tipton East location have come together to oppose the CAFO. The neighbors have been supported by the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, advocates for local control of agriculture and environmental protection groups. Members of these groups also have lobbied against Missouri House Bill 1973 and Senate Bill 823, which would further limit DNR's ability to regulate CAFO waste application and manure runoff under the Clean Water Law.

Among their concerns are the water quality of area ponds and rivers where livestock drink, well water quality in a place where rural residents without a public water source depend on the water table, health concerns for themselves and their children, air quality, and declining residential property values. The federally endangered Topeka shiner fish also has one of its few habitats in Moniteau Creek, linked to Smiley Creek, which extends near the Tipton East location.

The opposition members don't have much confidence in the ability of manure-spreading companies to safely apply manure after as much as 10,000 gallons of hog feces were spilled October 2014 in Callaway County. The manure flowed through tributaries to Millers Creek and into Mark Twain National Forest. The accident was not reported until a neighbor noticed the spill flowing past their property. Opposition members fear the same could happen to them.

If Tipton East is installed, some area opposition members are asking that manure not be spread within 1,000 feet of their homes and 300 feet from water sources.

Fred Williams just built his dream home about a mile over a hill north of the proposed Tipton East site. He had planned to dig a pool for his family to enjoy but said it would be pointless if Tipton East were installed because the smell would probably drive them inside on foggy or windy days. His cattle that graze near his home access water from a small pond he fears will be tainted by manure runoff.

On top of that, the man trying to sell the land for Tipton East is his uncle, Dean Gibson.

Fred Williams grew up in the area and said he plans to report to DNR a buried well on the site of the proposed facility, as well as two springs he believes to be very near the location. He hopes DNR will inspect the site and find that pitted manure could reach the water table if it leaks into the old homestead well, which would negatively impact well water quality.

"Who is going to come and dig me a new well if my water is tainted?" he asked. "All of the responsibility is going to be on us who live in Cooper County."

Fred Williams and other opposition members cite the research of retired MU Professor Emeritus of Agriculture and Applied Economics John Ikerd, who stated, "'Private property rights' have never included the right to benefit at your neighbor's expense. The 'right to farm' has never included the right to operate an 'animal feeding factory.'"

Susan Williams, mother of Fred Williams and sister of Dean Gibson, boils the situation down to a matter of trust.

She said Pipestone System representative Steve Menke offered to relocate Tipton East a half-mile farther from her property if she would approve of the project. She said she rejected the offer but later learned from her neighbor that Menke had told him Williams approved of the relocated plan.

"I was very angry," Susan Williams said. "I just called (Menke) back and said, 'You are a liar. Do not call my neighbor and say I'm on board with this.'"

Menke on Friday acknowledged having a conversation with Susan Williams about relocating Tipton East, but would not comment on allegations of deceit among the neighbors.